All the reports of Apple’s rumored Siri Speaker have it targeting Alexa and Google Home, and at one level that makes sense. The Siri Speaker seems like it will be a voice-controlled device in your home that happens to be able to emit sound. But I think there’s a different target Apple’s going after: Sonos. Remember, this isn’t rumored to just be a voice-controlled device with a speaker thrown in for audio feedback. Reports peg this as a device which contains multiple, high-quality speakers. In early May, KGI Securities’ Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said:
We expect Apple’s first home AI product will have excellent acoustics performance (one woofer + seven tweeters) and computing power (similar to iPhone 6/6S AP).
Seven tweeters. Amazon’s Echo at US$179.99, by comparison, has one woofer and one tweeter, as does the $199 Sonos PLAY:1. Even Sonos’s Flagship PLAY:5 at $499 only has six speakers, though three of those are woofers (the remaining three are tweeters).
Yesterday’s report from Mark Gurman and Alex Webb writing at Bloomberg states:
The device will differ from Amazon.com Inc.’s Echo and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home speakers by offering virtual surround sound technology […]
Virtual surround sound. This is starting to sound like the technology that Sonos has baked into its PLAYBASE and PLAYBAR (and, used a little differently, in the aforementioned PLAY:5, as well). Amazon and Google aren’t doing that with any of their current offerings.
I would expect a device with seven tweeters to provide truly room-filling sound, perhaps from all angles given that each of those tweeters could be aimed in slightly different directions. This might be something that could pair with an Apple TV and not only play music but also play the audio for your TV shows and movies. The Siri Speaker may be more of a living room device than a kitchen device.
For additional support, let’s include this tidbit from the same Ming-Chi Kuo report:
[…] likely to be positioned for: (i) the high-end market; (ii) better entertainment experience; and (iii) higher price than Amazon Echo.
Better entertainment experience is something none of the existing voice-controlled home assistants seem to boast or even target. Given the popularity and functional usefulness of the $49 Amazon Echo Dot and its one, tiny speaker, it could easily be argued that the Alexa product line completely omits the I-care-about-sound-quality market (feel free to leave your “but Bluetooth!” comments below).
Given the reported Siri Speaker’s enhanced acoustics and higher price points I’m thinking this thing targets the Sonos market: people that care about audio quality. It could perhaps finally be the first device that truly competes with Sonos (again, feel free to leave your comments about Bose and Polk below… I’ve tried those systems, folks, and I stand by the previous sentence).
I’ll stop well-short of applying the term “Sonos killer” here, though. Sonos already has excellent support for Apple Music and every other streaming platform available. I would be surprised if Apple’s Siri speaker did that upon launch, too, though it’s not outside the realm of possibilities. Remember, your iPhone supports this stuff, and if the reported Siri Speaker processor speed is even close to accurate, there’s no reason that this device couldn’t run apps to support third-party services just like the Apple TV does.
If Apple can truly release a high-quality speaker that is audibly-controlled and supports multiple music services including Apple Music, they would potentially have something very, very compelling to offer. Sonos is due to release their Alexa support later this year, but I’ve had a chance to approximate that with a hacked-together setup. Even with my hack’s imperfections, controlling music with one’s voice is true bliss and is most definitely the future of products like this.
Let’s just hope Siri doesn’t interpret “Play Stevie Wonder” as “Hey, this is a steaming blunder.”